Alabama’s Cul-de-sacs Reveal the Future of Smart Energy

Amy Hou  |  July 19, 2018   |  Energy & Sustainability  


The smart home of sci-fi films past has already become a reality. With a network of smart home devices, you can tell your smart speaker to adjust the temperature, maximize energy efficiency, turn off the lights, unlock the front door, and even bake your cookies for you. But a smart home can only do so much in isolation. What’s taking the future of smart energy by storm is a broader innovation in energy infrastructure: the smart neighborhood.

Smart Homes Expand Into Smart Neighborhoods

The first smart neighborhood of its kind is in an unexpected place: suburban Alabama. Alabama Power’s two-year trial of smart neighborhood technology looks like a glimpse into the future, complete with a five-acre microgrid, solar panels, battery storage, and a backup generator. As if that weren’t impressive enough, each individual home comes equipped with its own energy efficient appliances from Carrier, Samsung, and Vivint, making each household 35 percent more efficient than a standard home.

One of Southern Company’s other subsidiaries, Georgia Power, has announced a similar pilot project for Atlanta, Georgia. Homes in the Atlanta smart neighborhood will be built with rooftop solar installations, in-home battery storage, advanced HVAC systems, smart thermostats, and LED lighting.

All of these smart energy technologies are converging for a purpose, and that’s to support a cleaner, more resilient energy grid. As a smart neighborhood sustains itself on the energy produced within, it no longer needs to rely on (or put strain on) a central power grid.

Want to learn more about the future of energy infrastructure? Watch Eric Gebhardt, VP of Strategic Technology at General Electric, share his predictions at SPARK 2017.

What It Means for Energy Infrastructure

So what do these two little neighborhoods have to do with the rest of the world? As we said, Alabama’s smart neighborhood was created as a case study for data collection. Residents of the neighborhood agreed to let Alabama Power collect their energy data in order to study how microgrids and renewable energy sources work in practice. More than 1,900 existing microgrids run in the U.S., but research on their impacts is still in early stages. That’s why Todd Rath, project lead for the development, hopes that the project will contribute solid data to help the utility company make more informed decisions moving forward.

Rath summed up the experiment’s implications for energy infrastructure as a whole. “This is not an energy efficient project or a connectivity project or a distributed generation project, per se. It is sort of a macro project of how all those things work together and what our customers will look like and how we’ll serve them going forward.”

“This is not an energy efficient project or a connectivity project or a distributed generation project, per se. It is a macro project of how all those things work together.”

David Riley, director of the Pennsylvania State University GridSTAR research center, says this type of living laboratory should always be the first step before utilities expand their investments. According to him, microgrid capabilities are a “pattern, and until you build one, you really don’t have legs to stand on in terms of saying you know what you’re doing.”

Making Smart Energy Decisions

As consumers become more and more conscious of their energy footprints, they’re looking to their utility providers to empower a more resilient, energy efficient future. Utilities, for their part, are taking the right steps to test and learn about the smart energy technologies that have the most potential to drive efficiency and stability. As projects like these multiply and we start to see more definitive results, continuous data collection will be crucial to keeping the lights on no matter the circumstances.

Check out our solutions sheet to learn how the Urjanet Utility Data Platform powers accurate and comprehensive data collection.

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About Amy Hou

Amy Hou is a Marketing Manager at Urjanet, overseeing content and communications. She enjoys writing about the latest industry updates in sustainability, energy efficiency, and data innovation.

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